Super Crush KO Switch Review

Beat ’em ups is a genre I have quite the soft spot for. There is something satisfying with punching and kicking through waves of enemies with flashy moves and to a funky beat. Some games truly excel at this, such as Streets of Rage 2, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time or in some more modern titles, like Dragon’s Crown and Fight’ N Rage, where it all comes together in such a way that they are a blast to play time and time again. Vertex Pop, the studio behind Graceful Explosion Machine, an indie 2D shooter that released not that long after the launch of the Nintendo Switch, are back with their new title that switches from shooter to brawler with some rather distinct visuals for good measure.

The protagonist, Karen, is minding her business in her bedroom, chilling with her fat cat on the bed, who is, funny enough, called Chubbz, when an alien bursts through her wall, falls in love with the furry feline and steals the cat from Karen. Now, no one likes their pets taken from them, and Karen is no different, chucking on her jacket, gloves, shoes and proceeds to leave to chase down the perpetrator, but what stands in the way are armies of robots trying to stop her. Unlucky for the alien, Karen is a fighter, quite nifty with her fists and feet, and the laser gun that she somehow happens to own. Yep, it’s a fun and outrageous video game setup, but the story is short and snappy, here just for that introduction, with a few still art comic book scenes used between chapters to add continuation between them.

It is not often I mention visuals early on in a review, but in Super Crush KO, it’s one of the areas that hits first with good impressions. Even straight from the introduction comic book scene it’s clear to see that Super Crush KO has a distinct visual presentation, and when it gets into the game, what is presented to the eyes is a wonderful mix of bright and warm colours. The art for the environment and character beam a heart-warming, charming vibe due to the pastel art direction that screams “cartoon”, but far from the generic visuals can often come from aiming for such a style, such as seen on mobile phones. If anything, the visuals are one of the game’s most positive attributes.

That does not mean that everything else is a negative, but Super Crush KO is a title that never excels at the genre, rather it seems the developers wanted people to simply have a fun time with an approachable combat system that enables anyone to pick up the controller and bash a few alien robots. Combat begins simple, as the game eases the player by introducing moves a couple at a time through the early levels. Once everything has become unlocked, Karen can punch, kick, perform aerial attacks, shoot a laser gun and use a metre to activate special abilities, such as The Uppercut Slice, Twisted Drill (think Cammy’s drill move from Street Fighter II), Ground Shake (stun enemies on ground) and Air Pop, a sort of air-based dash kick that is fantastic for extending combos, and the ultimate damaging move, a giant laser beam that might as well be a Kamehameha, as it channels that inner power for big damage if any enemies are caught within its wide beam area.

This is where Super Crush KO is different from the standard beat ’em up formula, as to get the most out of this game is about using Karen’s full arsenal to keep the hits rolling and increase the rating all the way up to S rank. Karen isn’t the fastest person on foot, but making use of her abilities enables her to get around fast, while the laser can be used to keep the combo going if an enemy is out of melee reach. The chain will break after a short time has passed without an hit on the enemy, so the game’s flow is about speed and hits. Each stage will reward a rank based on how many points were scored, and a leaderboard is available to match up against the world’s best players.

Combat never becomes complex, remaining straightforward to enable the focus to be on the chaining. This is both a blessing and a curse for the game, because sure, what tools are available get the job done, and it can look flashy when Karen is popping across the screen in all directions, blowing up enemies and seeing the score card tally up as the combat allows for free flowing combinations between each standard and special move. The problem is that these limited amount of moves make things become a bit stale and bland after a while. Metre management is required on the special moves (and the gun does have a battery that slows the rate of fire as it drains, leaving it to charge up over a few seconds), so those tools cannot be overly abused, but even then, things become all too familiar, since  there are no upgrades or advance moves once past the early couple of stages, and so things fall into this routine.

Level design could have added some flair to the combat, but since this is a 2D game on a flat plain, unlike say Streets of Rage, where there is a degree of movement in all direction, all there is here in Super Crush KO is left, right and jumping on some platforms, as the levels are usually built up of small battle arenas before transitioning on wards to the next part to bash another group of bad-guys. There is enough different types of standard foes to switch up combat that helps stop the player falling into autopilot, but I do wish the boss fights could have been a bit more inventive rather than repeating similar designs for each four featured in the game.

The aesthetics are nice, but the 20 levels spread across four zones all appear too similar, lacking any variety as such, and it’s more the new enemies that appear in them to differentiate the zones. The game is missing those cool scenarios that features in something like Turtles In Time, where scenes, such as being on a surf board in the sewers or throwing footsoldiers at Shredder, stick with you. There is nothing here that does that or becomes memorable, it seems all about its colours and some traps, speed pads and jump pads, but that isn’t enough to stop the levels becoming blended together. Excitement should not just be about the action, but what can also be incorporated into that action, which is why level design can be such a great character to bring into a beat ’em up.

Super Crush KO comes across more of an arena brawler than a straight beat ’em up due to how the levels are designed to stop progression until all enemies are defeated in the section (many also spawn in after the initial wave is cleared), and that’s a shame, because there could have been much more to it, especially with it being solely 2D, where that perspective works wonders for platforming that could have led this to have been some sort of 2D scrolling Devil May Cry.

Reading up on a couple of interviews with the team at Vertex Pop, it sounds like the developers were developing a game where most people could get into it without problems. If that is what they were trying to accomplish, then they have done just that, because Super Crush KO is not a bad game, rather, it is a title that is fun in short bursts and one that people of all ages could get to grips with. But by aiming for such a wide market of players, I feel the game loses something that could have made it that bit special. Ultimately, Super Crush KO is a short burst of fun that is priced well for what you get, but its simple level design and lack of building on the combat system make this a title I grew out of after a few short hours of play.

6 out of 10